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The Second-Worst Thing

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There's a joke Martin knows, in which a man asks his friend, why do you keep banging your head against that wall? and the friend replies, because it feels so good when I stop.

He doubts Douglas would appreciate being compared to something as dull and thick as a wall. Douglas would probably even be tedious enough to point out that it's him, not Martin, doing most of the, ha ha, banging. As for Martin, what he gets out of their arrangement is something far more complicated than mere release. But the stupid little joke comes to mind almost every time he sees Douglas these days.

He doesn't remember precisely how their arrangement started, only that it had been Douglas who initially approached him, and Martin who had suggested a little twist to the comfortable, no-strings opportunistic shagging Douglas had proposed. Douglas had been a little surprised at first, but he'd risen to the challenge, and Martin had enjoyed the almost unprecedented victory of manipulating a dangerous situation into one in which he had the upper hand.

Martin's never been good at getting exactly what he wants out of life, but he's come to realize that he has a positive genius for getting the next best thing. It's satisfying enough, in the short term.

He doesn't let himself think about the future.

*

"What's the matter?" Douglas had said, that first night in Rio, when a bout of thorough snogging against the door of their hotel room failed to rouse anything in the way of visible interest from Martin. "Am I boring you?"

Yes was a safe, if inaccurate answer. Martin hadn't been bored, so much as paralyzed with anxiety. He'd thought he could manage this, sex without intimacy, keeping his wishful thinking to himself. But Douglas is an accomplished seducer. He's far too good at mimicking what he doesn't feel to get what he wants. And Martin was already responding to the illusion, endearments gathering on the tip of his tongue, threatening to spill out. It wouldn't do. The least little thing might betray him, and Douglas was too canny not to see right through him if that happened.

So Martin had pulled back, feigning a cool composure, and said, "This is nice. But what if we--tried something else?"

He'd let Douglas come to his own conclusions. Let him assume that Martin was experienced with rough sex, that he preferred it that way with all his partners. Martin never let on that he was improvising, that he was startled by how easy it was to endure to pain, as long as it was protecting him from something worse.

It had worked out just fine. More than fine, really. Douglas had definitely seemed to enjoy having Martin on his knees, submissive and pliable. Whereas what Martin liked was not having to pretend that he enjoyed it.

Well, that wasn't precisely true. He loved giving himself over to Douglas so completely. He loved not having to think about anything but following orders, taking what Douglas gave him. But the crucial point, the thing that made all the rest of it possible, was that he could cry and scream when the sensation of so close, so far away began to overwhelm him. Douglas didn't wonder what Martin was really feeling, not when he was beating Martin's arse strawberry-red. He just assumed the tears were for the obvious reasons. So Martin was able to relax, not worry about giving himself away, and when his hands clutched the bedsheets, there was no reason for Douglas to think it was because Martin was fighting to urge to cling to him, to wrap his arms around Douglas's neck and overwhelm himself in the nearness of him.

And when they'd both come, and Douglas had tried to pull Martin into his lap, to soothe his quivering muscles with gentle touches and kind words, Martin hadn't had to disguise the way his voice quivered, when he'd said, "Really, Douglas, I'm fine. Don't fuss. It was just a bit of fun."

"Fun," Douglas had said, in a flat voice that gave away nothing. "Yes. Yes, it was, wasn't it?"

And when Martin had gathered up his clothes, and Douglas had said, "Tomorrow?" Martin was already red-faced, so there was nothing at all for Douglas to read in his, "Yeah, sure," besides a willingness to carry on having--fun.

Martin doesn't feel sorry for himself. He suspects that getting what you really want in life is dangerous, really. He's lucky to have a facsimile. It's more than most people get. And there's a better chance of keeping it, when no one knows how much he wants it.

Most days, he really thinks he believes that.

*

They carry on that way for the better part of a month. Every time there's a layover, Martin finds a way of slipping his spare hotel key into Douglas's pocket, and toward the end of the evening, after dinner, Douglas turns up, to find Martin waiting for him. They've never done this at home, and Martin's not about to suggest it. Hotels are impersonal, and neither of them have to worry about the etiquette of offering hospitality to a casual fuck.

Martin relies on the rhythm they've settled into, and Douglas hasn't given him any reason to suspect he's less than satisfied with it, which is why it throws Martin for a positive loop when Douglas tries to shake it up.

"Dinner?" Douglas suggests, in the lift leading up to their floor. They've got separate rooms tonight, which is a relief to Martin, though Douglas had made a bit of a face when Carolyn told them. "My treat. There's a rather good sushi place a few blocks from here. I'm particularly fond of the eel nigiri."

That's not how this is supposed to go at all. They don't do dates, because they aren't dating. They're co-workers, maybe friends, but even friendship is difficult to play at these days. Now that they have--the arrangement, it skirts too close to the border of being something else.

"No thanks," says Martin firmly, staring at the blinking panel of lighted buttons. He ignores the flutter in his stomach, the cultivated instinct to say yes, to give Douglas anything he wants. "I'm going to rest a bit."

"Straight to bed, then?" Douglas inquires, in that mild tone Martin has come to recognize as a cover for keen interest.

"Not bed, no." Martin adjusts the strap of his beaten duffle bag. "Just…rest."

"Right," says Douglas musingly. "Well. I'll only be an hour or so, I expect?"

These are the sorts of conversations that pass for invitations, on nights like this. They both know what's on offer. No need to put either of their egos on the line by spelling it out.

"Sure," says Martin. "I expect I'll still be up." It's all code. Not so different from what passes between any two co-workers conducting a clandestine affair.

"I'll stop by, then."

"Yeah, good."

"You're certain I can't tempt you to dinner?" The lift doors open, and Douglas steps forward smoothly, blocking Martin's way. "Seems to me you ought to keep your strength up. Active lad like you."

The little waggle of an eyebrow turns it into joking innuendo, and Martin fights off a smile. Douglas doesn't mean anything by it. He's a bit old-fashioned, that's all, he thinks it's only civilized to buy dinner for the person he's shagging.

"I'm sure," Martin says, because he is. There's a gulf between what he wants, and what he can have, and he's already got one foot stretched out over empty air. He's not about to risk getting thrown off balance.

"Suit yourself," says Douglas airily, as they start down the corridor. "But I dislike eating alone. It puts me in a bad mood. I doubt you'll find me in a…lenient frame of mind when I return."

Martin shivers involuntarily, but he covers it by spotting his room and fishing the key from his pocket. "I can take it," he says, in a tone that matches their mutual pretense of jest.

Douglas steps up close behind Martin before he can get the door open, the warm length of his torso molding itself against Martin's back. He leans down to speak, and his breath tickles the back of Martin's neck.

"And you take it beautifully," he murmurs, wrapping the fingers of his right hand in an iron grip above Martin's elbow. Martin's eyes shut, and it's all he can do not to lean back and arch his neck, baring his throat. "What will happen, I wonder, when I push you to the end of your limits? Will you still manage to be elegant, when I've shattered you?"

Martin's hard so fast that it makes him lightheaded, and he can't help leaning back into Douglas a bit as his knees go watery. It's intoxicating, imagining what it would be like, letting Douglas take him that far. But Douglas hasn't got a chance. Martin's hidden the only breakable part of himself where Douglas will never find it.

"We'll find out, I suppose," Martin whispers, tugging free of Douglas's grip. "If you ever manage it."

Douglas growls, low in his throat, and Martin laughs a little as he closes the door in his face. He'll pay for that later, but that's the point. Just because Douglas is never going to break him doesn't mean Martin doesn't want him to try.

A little over an hour later, there's a distinct, familiar rap on his door. Two slow knocks, two fast ones, so Martin knows for sure that it's Douglas.

They never negotiate scenes ahead of time. Martin doesn't like to do that. He doesn't want fancy toys or special words or any sort of artificial formality. He prefers the illusion that this is simply natural, that this is just the way the two of them fit.

When the door opens, the draft hits Martin's bare skin, drawing gooseflesh. He's naked, kneeling on the floor with his back to Douglas. His belt and his tie lay on the bed beside him. He already knows what he wants Douglas to do with them, but he never asks, just waits Douglas to pick up on the cues. Douglas must enjoy the illusion that he's in complete control, or why else would he keep coming back? God knows, there's little else to tempt him.

Douglas doesn't speak right away. That's not unusual; he likes to draw out the anticipation, and Martin doesn't have to fake a squirm as he feels Douglas's eyes rake his body.

For a large man, Douglas can move with surprising swiftness and silence, when he wants to. Martin doesn't even have a chance to brace himself before Douglas is behind him, yanking Martin's head back by the hair, covering Martin's throat with his other hand. Martin's gasp is restricted by the pressure against his windpipe, and his eyelids flutter as he looks up at Douglas. From this strange, backwards, kneeling angle, Douglas looks stern and formidable, almost angry. Martin likes him that way. He trusts Douglas's anger in a way he'll never trust his tenderness.

"The sushi was, I believe, excellent," says Douglas. "Unfortunately, I could barely taste it. I was far too distracted by the state you left me in. You unforgivable little cock tease."

Without warning, Douglas's grip tightens in his hair, and he yanks upwards, hard. Martin's eyes water. He pushes himself up, to ease the pressure, and finds his face grinding into Douglas's erection.

"I think I know what you've been angling for, these last few times," Douglas continues, in a conversational tone. "And I think that, tonight, I'm disposed to give it to you. On my terms, of course."

Martin's frantic breathing is turning the fabric of Douglas's trousers damp and hot, and the musky smell of his sex fills Martin's nose. He wonders what it is Douglas thinks he wants. The real answer is, of course, everything, and nothing you'll ever give me.

"I'll need to take the edge off first, of course," Douglas continues. "I'll never be able to concentrate, like this."

He releases Martin's hair, and for a moment, strong fingers stroke it back into place. It's soothing and sweet and it makes Martin's stomach clench uncomfortably. But then Douglas is shoving him away, hard, and Martin falls forwards on his hands and knees. It's a different kind of brutality than he's accustomed to; it's careless, not at all intimate, and Martin is surprised to find that it makes him feel even worse than the facsimile of tenderness he felt when Douglas was petting his hair. He stays down, his back still to Douglas, and he listens to the sound of clothing being briskly and efficiently removed. When Douglas's belt hits the floor with a clank of the buckle, Martin shivers, and not from arousal.

"Come here," says Douglas, and Martin scrambles back up to his knees, creeping forward to where Douglas stands naked by the end of the bed. Douglas's tone is impatient, unkind, and it makes Martin move all the faster. He feels a deep-seated anxiety, a frantic need to obey as quickly and as well as possible, before Douglas's mood worsens.

Somewhere at the back of Martin's mind, he realizes that this is a familiar sensation, that it's not unlike the way he rushed to bring his father a beer from the fridge when he came home from work in a foul temper. Whatever is wrong with Martin, it started a long time ago, and it makes it all the less surprising that he's ended up like this, now.

Just as Martin draws close enough to reach for Douglas's cock, Douglas backs up a step. Martin looks up at Douglas, confused, but the implacable expression he wears gives Martin no clues. He drags himself forward a few more inches, and Douglas steps away again. Martin is reduced to crawling across the carpet until Douglas's back meets the wall.

"Come on," scoffs Douglas. "Faster, what's wrong with you?"

Martin's face is wet with tears by the time he manages to touch Douglas's cock. His hands are shaking, and he doesn't dare meet Douglas's eyes. When he slips the head of Douglas's cock between his lips, Douglas's hands come to settle on the top of his hair. Martin is expecting the hot burn of a hard yank, but they cradle the back of his skull, almost protectively.

After the last few anxious minutes, the tenderness makes him want to sob. But when Douglas starts to card his fingers through tangled, sweaty locks, Martin feels his stomach sink. He can't go on, if Douglas is going to be like this. He rests his hands against Douglas's bare thighs, and digs his nails into the skin fiercely, demanding fierceness in return. Douglas draws a ragged gasp. His fingers tighten in Martin's hair, and he drives his cock hard against the back of Martin's throat.

"Fast," he says, his voice husky, as he starts to fuck Martin's mouth. "I want to come fast. The longer you take to get me off, the harder it will go for you later. Understand me, Martin? Whatever happens later, it's your doing."

It's funny, the noises people make when they're having sex, how often they sound like something other than pleasure. If Martin didn't know better, he'd think Douglas was almost crying. But he loves fucking Martin's mouth, and Martin is good at it. Usually. Tonight, though, nothing he does seems to satisfy Douglas. The deeper he takes him, the faster he rises to meet Douglas's thrusts, the angrier Douglas sounds. Never has Martin been more desperate to please, and never has it been more impossible.

"What's got into you tonight?" Douglas mocks him. "I used to think you had a sort of talent for this. I'm beginning to wonder if this was worth rushing through my dinner."

Martin can't cry properly, not with Douglas's cock in his mouth, but the burn in his throat isn't just from the abuse it's getting. Unbidden, Douglas's words from earlier sound in his memory. Is he trying to push Martin beyond what he thinks Martin can endure? Does he think he can make Martin desperate enough to open up and spill his secrets, just to become another puzzle that clever, clever Douglas has managed to solve?

Martin releases his hold on Douglas's thighs and holds his hands behind his back. Now that he has nothing to brace himself against, the weight of his leaning body drives Douglas's cock hard down his throat. Martin is practiced at this, so he doesn't gag, but he does choke, sputtering and dribbling into the hair at the base of Douglas's cock. Douglas gasps, sharp and surprised, and after a second he tries to pull Martin up by the hair, but Martin ignores the pain, ignores the burning in his lungs and the light flashing in his eyes. He chokes wetly, messily, helplessly around Douglas, and a few second later he feels Douglas convulse, coming inside him.

It only lasts a moment, not long enough for the aftershocks to die away, before Douglas grabs his shoulders and shoves him off. Martin collapses to the floor, sobbing and spitting, feeling the tingle between his eyes that means he's dangerously close to passing out. The carpet is rough under his skin, his jaw and throat ache, but Martin feels a dim sense of triumph.

Douglas had wanted to shatter him, he'd said so, but Martin isn't glass, he's water. There's no depth to which he can't sink.

"What the hell was that?" Martin hadn't noticed Douglas falling to knees beside him, but now Douglas is bending over him, his eyes wide, his face a wreck of bewildered fury. "What's wrong with you? What were trying to do to yourself?"

Martin doesn't answer. Douglas stares down at him, a muscle jumping in his clenched jaw. He reaches down and smooths Martin's sweat-soaked hair from his forehead. Martin closes his eyes.

"Stay there." Martin hears Douglas struggling to his feet, as though his limbs are somehow heavier than normal. He hears water running in the bathroom, and then Douglas is back again, cleaning his face with a cool cloth. His touch is feather light, and his free hand strokes Martin's shoulder.

Whatever Douglas had planned for after, he seems to have forgotten about it now. In a flash, Martin can see how the next hour will go. Douglas will gather him up in his arms and carry him to the bed, wrapping him up in a tight embrace, whispering soothing things into his ear. He'll be attentive and reassuring. He will be gentle, and kind.

Martin won't have the strength to pretend that he doesn't want it. And then this, whatever it is they have, will be over. Douglas will only hurt Martin as long as thinks Martin's enjoying it. He's not cruel.

"Get off," says Martin brusquely. His arms and legs feel like overcooked spaghetti, but he manages to shove himself upright and snatch the cloth from Douglas's hand. He drags the flannel over his face and throat, wiping away the mess, then tosses it aside. "Where'd I leave my clothes?"

"Don't be stupid," says Douglas, surprised into harshness. Strange, but it's only now that Martin fully understands that Douglas's earlier implacability had been part of the game, just a mind fuck. It hadn't sat naturally on him. The confusion he's displaying now, that's the real thing. "Stay here. Let me look after you."

If Martin thought for a second that there was anything more meaningful than shock and guilt behind Douglas's insistent demands, he'd roll over for him like a dog. But he knows better. He's been careful; he hasn't even shown Douglas enough to earn his pity. Douglas will be asleep ten minutes after he's gone. He'll be fine. They both will.

"I don't need looking after." Martin gets to his feet, trying to disguise his unsteadiness. He drags his trousers up over his hips and bundles the rest of his clothes together under his arm.

"Martin, sit down." Douglas takes a step toward him and takes hold of Martin's wrist. "We need to talk."

"We really don't," says Martin automatically.

"This isn't just about you. I'm starting to feel uncomfortable with the way things are going, between us."

Martin's stomach plummets. Uncomfortable is a dangerous word. Boring, unsatisfactory, he can work with those, but uncomfortable means that Douglas's conscience is bothering him, and Martin can't make that go away with a more enthusiastic blow job.

"You seemed to be having a good time," says Martin, pulling free of Douglas and yanking his shirt down over his head. "You definitely seemed to enjoy coming down my throat."

"Did you enjoy it, then?" says Douglas, challengingly. "Because what you were doing looked more like self-harm, to me."

It's a bow drawn at a venture, but it strikes Martin whang in the gold. He feels unbearably exposed, far more so than when he'd been naked.

"What does that matter to you?" says Martin, avoiding Douglas's eyes. "I thought you said you weren't about to judge how I liked to get off."

"This isn't about getting off, though, is it? You're--punishing yourself for something, and you're using me to do it."

A protest rises to Martin's lips, but he doesn't quite have the nerve to voice it. Because Douglas is wrong, but he's not that wrong. And Martin has to keep the lie simple, if he's going to keep it up.

"So what am I doing wrong?" says Martin. "I'll do something different, if you want. I--I want you to enjoy it."

Douglas's expression softens, and he lays his hands on Martin's shoulders.

"Stay with me tonight," he says. "You miss the best part of a shag, when you take yourself off right after, you know."

Martin has to fight to keep from showing his anger, because it isn't Douglas's fault, really. He doesn't know what he's asking. He'd come to Martin because he was a bit lonely, and of course part of what he must miss from his marriage is having someone to wake up with in the mornings. If Martin weren't so hideously compromised already, he'd be happy to do it.

"Sorry," he says. "That's not part of the deal. I, I, I don't like sleeping with people. Besides, you probably snore."

The feeble joke doesn't have the hoped-for effect. "Then just lie with me for awhile. Christ, Martin, you're trembling. You've no idea what you look like. It can't be healthy, just going on your way like nothing's happened."

"Nothing is exactly what happened!" Martin shouts, screwing his eyes up against the tears. "We're not--God, Douglas. What do you think we're doing here? It's just sex, that's what you said that first night. People who are just having sex don't, don't cuddle afterwards!"

A long silence falls, and Martin hears rather than sees when Douglas takes a step away from him. When he speaks again, his voice has gone rather cold.

"Of course," he says. "My mistake." Douglas clears his throat. "All the same, Martin, I--don't quite like it. I think, perhaps, this has gone on long enough."

Ever since Douglas said uncomfortable, Martin's been half-certain this was where the conversation was eventually going to lead. Hearing it is still a blow. He wants to fling himself at Douglas, plead with him, tell him he'll do anything, if it means keeping what they have. But the result would be the same in the end, only with a bonus of added humiliation.

"Fine," says Martin dully. "Fine. I--I'll find someone else, then."

Douglas recoils, like Martin's slapped him, and he thinks he sees a flicker of genuine hurt in Douglas's eyes before his lip curls mockingly.

"Of course," he says. "Because you've always enjoyed such astonishing success, attracting romantic partners in the past."

It's cruel, and it's not like Douglas to be cruel, but perhaps it had been in bad taste for Martin to suggest that Douglas was so easily replaced. The irony, of course, is that the sex is easily replaced. It's Douglas who has no likeness in the world.

Martin laughs, before he can help himself. There's no mirth in it, but Douglas looks outraged.

"I never thought you were that naive, Douglas," he says. "It's only getting someone to care about me that I'm hopeless at. Finding tough older blokes who want to hurt me is astonishingly easy."

He doesn't look at Douglas as he leaves.

*

The thing is, Martin hadn't really been serious.

The stuff he and Douglas did--Martin had never done that sort of thing with anyone else. When he has sex again (if he can ever stop thinking about Douglas long enough to have sex again) it will be simple, a mutual wank, a fuck, no kissing if he can help it. Despite what he'd implied to Douglas, he'd no intention of going out to look for a, a new partner in kink. That had never been the point, even with Douglas.

Douglas had been the point.

The problem is that in the days after Douglas puts an end to their arrangement, Martin's attempts to fantasize about simple, uncomplicated sex with a simple, uncomplicated stranger don't keep him hard long enough even for a wank. After a month of the real thing it's like the wires connecting the fantasy center of his brain to his cock have been cut.

Finally, after a long, lonely, desperate week, he takes himself in hand while fantasizing about something else.

No, no, don't think about Douglas, he tells himself furiously. Just think how it felt, when you were on your knees for him. How you were always a little bit scared, how it drove away everything except the need to please him. Think about the hard, heavy weight of his hand against your arse. The way he'd slick up his cock and fuck you with no prep, nothing but a little lube and your tears soaking the pillow. Shut your eyes, pretend he's blindfolded you with your own tie. You never knew where his belt would hit next--your nipples, the bottom of your foot, the inside your thigh. He was rough on your cock, he tugged and yanked like it was the end of a lead but he's the only person who ever made you come harder than you could come from wanking. And after you came, there was always a moment when he looked at you, and--no. God, don't think of that!

Martin stares at the dark hotel ceiling and comes silently into his cupped hand. He grabs for the tissues at his bedside and tosses them into the bin, then rolls onto his side. Tears threaten, but he can hold them back. Christ, he'd had sex with Douglas for a month and never once given into the temptation to kiss him. Anything is easy, after that.

His working relationship with Douglas doesn't seem to have suffered much from ending their other relationship. If anything, Douglas is more courteous now. But he's also more distant, in a way that leaves Martin aching for the strange intimacy of his teasing and their old banter. It's like Douglas has suddenly come to the conclusion that Martin is fragile, that there's something wrong with him, that he needs delicate handling. Martin had liked it better when Douglas was hitting him on a regular basis. The sex they'd had was strange and violent, but Martin always walked away from it feeling peaceful, if empty. It went deeper than the brief sensation of calm following an ordinary orgasm. Martin hadn't realized how much stress he was venting in his sessions with Douglas until he wakes up one morning and finds he can hardly turn his neck because of the tension knotted in his shoulders. They've had flights practically back to back lately, and no matter how cramped their accommodations or how shoddy the hotel's air conditioning his rooms always feel too big, too cold. He's lonelier now than he was before. He could almost wish he'd turned Douglas down, that night in Rio, if not for the fact that he knows he's probably going to spend the rest of his life reliving those memories, telling himself that at least once he'd almost known how it felt to be with the person he loved.

Love. Martin doesn't let himself use that word very often, even in the privacy of his head, but there's no running from it anymore. Surely he must love Douglas, if the pain of losing him is worse than the pain of being with him. He hates himself for not being a better actor, not being able to trust himself to just let Douglas do what he needed to do to feel right about giving Martin what he wanted. Maybe he'd been selfish. Douglas had needs too, and one of those needs was to reassure himself he was a good person, however far into the grey the needle of his moral compass sometimes swings. And even if he'd sussed Martin out in the end, and sent Martin away for his own good, surely that would be better than this aching distance, this heavy civility that's fallen between them. They might, at least, still have been friends. Martin's not sure they are, anymore.

All this churning misery comes to a head one night in Portugal, when Martin finds himself holding up the bar for the better portion of the evening. Douglas is at a table on the other side of the room, buying one fizzy pink cocktail after another for an Air France stewardess at least five years younger than Martin. He can't bring himself to look at them, but he also can't bear to be anywhere else; it's like he's hoping that their flirtation won't lead anywhere as long as Martin's keeping an eye on them in the mirror behind the bar.

They're on a 48 hour layover, so he's well into his third gin and tonic of the night, when a man in a five thousand pound suit sits down beside him and offers to buy Martin a fourth.

His name is Richard and he's about Douglas's age, a bit taller and not quite as soft around the middle. Martin supposes he's quite handsome, except that he measures everyone against Douglas now, and Richard's eyes, while brown like Douglas's, lack the same sweet depth. Martin's not particularly interested in his flirting, and he's barely keeping up his end of the polite small talk, when Richard leans in quietly and says, "But I think you and I have certain interests in common?"

Martin frowns at him, not following. Richard reaches out and takes Martin's hand, nudging the cuff his sleeve up a few inches. There's still a faint ring of yellowing bruises around his wrist, from the last time Douglas pinned him to the bed while fucking him. Martin stares, not entirely sure he understands, until Richard wraps his fingers around the bruises, and gives them a firm, slightly painful squeeze.

"I think we should go to my room," Richard murmurs, not releasing him. "I'd tell you to crawl, but I dislike making myself conspicuous."

Martin rears back, eyes widening. Everything in the room that isn't Richard is suddenly wobbly and gin-smeared. There's no gentleness in Richard's predatory grin, and Martin realizes that if he takes Richard up on his offer, what follows will be something no experience has prepared him for. This is dangerous, and the possibilities make his stomach turn over, but when Martin glances into the mirror he sees Douglas sitting very straight and still, staring at them across the room.

Hot, vicious satisfaction floods Martin's body. His mind is suddenly very easy to make up.

"I'm all yours," he tells Richard, who smirks and pays their bills and yanks Martin a little too hard under the pretense of helping him down from the stool. Martin stumbles against him, feeling every ounce of the liquor in his blood stream. Martin can feel Douglas watching them as Richard digs his fingers into Martin's arm and guides him from the bar.

He's glad Douglas is watching. He hopes he worries.

He hopes it hurts.

*

Richard's room, conveniently, is on the same floor as the one Martin and Douglas are sharing. Richard releases him when the lift doors open, and Martin follows him down the corridor, all at once feeling nervous and exposed. He tells himself he can back out of this at any time, that he doesn't have to let Richard do anything he doesn't want, but deep down he knows that the word no isn't going to pass his lips tonight. He's been in this for the pain all along. Pain is simple, and Martin knows how to handle it. It's friendship, caring, and decency that throw him for a loop. He won't find any of those things with Richard, so really he's on very firm ground.

"Come in and have a seat," says Richard, holding the door open for him. "Can I get you another drink?"

Too much more, and Martin's not going to conscious for much longer, but maybe it will be easier that way. He nods, and Richard unlocks the mini-bar, taking bottles from the cabinet and mini-fridge.

"Make yourself comfortable," says Richard, pouring gin into a glass with a practiced hand. "And by comfortable, I mean naked, of course."

Martin giggles a bit, and Richard gives a very brief smile. He probably will be more comfortable naked, and on his knees. He doesn't have to pretend when he's like that, and all this politeness between them is just that, pretense.

Martin takes off his jacket and loosens his tie, pulling it over his head. He removes his socks and shoes and unbuttons his shirt, shucking it from his shoulders. Richard crosses the room, holding the drink in his hand. Martin takes it and brings it to his lips.

There's a knock at the door.

Richard's smile vanishes, and he looks over irritably. "I haven't the faintest idea who that could be," he mutters. "Just a moment."

Martin keeps his back to the door as Richard answers, because he suddenly has a very good idea who's knocking, and the very thought makes him feel hot and ashamed and desperately relieved. He doesn't want to be here. He wants Douglas, even if it's the new, quiet Douglas who won't touch him or meet his eyes. He wants Douglas to take him out of here, even though he knows he'll never let him.

"Pardon the intrusion," says Douglas, rather loudly. "But I've just come to check on my friend. I think he might be a bit worse for drink, and I'd like to make sure he's all right."

"Of course," says Richard, stepping back from the door and letting Douglas inside. "Martin, do you know this gentleman?"

Haltingly, Martin turns. Douglas's eyes widen as he takes in Martin's half-dressed state, the fresh drink in his hand. Only someone who knows Douglas as well as Martin would be able to tell that he's worried, and a little angry, because Douglas is almost as good at hiding things as Martin.

"Martin, I think perhaps you ought to meet up with your…friend another time. A more sober time, at least." Douglas steps past Richard and extends his hand, waiting for Martin to take it.

Martin doesn't move. He wraps his arms around his chest, aware that he's flushing furiously. "I'm fine, Douglas. Just, just fine. Fine."

Douglas's mouth tightens. "I don't entirely believe you."

"Just go!" says Martin, with all the force of a man who means precisely the opposite. "It's none of your business."

Richard gives an amused little laugh. "Well, I don't think that could be much clearer," he says to Douglas. "Now if you'll excuse us."

There's a brief, tense moment in which Douglas looks at Richard and Martin isn't entirely certain he's not about to throw a punch. Martin can't be here with the both of them a moment longer, so he turns and walks into the bathroom. There's a murmur of voices in the other room, and Martin leans against the sink, looking at himself in the mirror. He understands why Douglas had been concerned now. He looks even more frightened than he'd realized he felt.

The outer door shuts with a bang, and a moment later there's a knock on the bathroom door.

"Your overbearing friend has gone," says Richard, opening the door before Martin has a chance. "My, my. What a spice of drama, to begin the evening. Is he an old lover, perhaps?"

Martin takes a deep breath. "I don't want to talk about him."

Richard arches an eyebrow. "I don't particularly want to talk about him either."

He takes two long steps into the bathroom and comes to stand so close to Martin that the fine wool of his suit brushes Martin's chest. He smiles down at him for a moment. Then he runs a hand up Martin's bare back.

"I don't particularly want to talk at all," he murmurs. "How do you feel about gags?"

His fingers twist in Martin's hair, yanking his head back, and his lips falls heavily on Martin's mouth, cutting off his cry.

*

Two hours later, Martin stumbles out of Richard's room into the corridor. The door swings shut behind him, and Martin reaches out to brace himself against the wall. His jacket, shoes, and tie are bundled under his arm, and his shirt is sticking uncomfortably to his back. He wishes he hadn't been wearing his uniform. He doesn't know what he's going to do about the dry cleaning bill.

Well, at least that's over with, Martin thinks, as he begins to shuffle toward his room. The parts of him that aren't numb are burning, and he feels nauseated, though he isn't remotely drunk anymore. Above and beyond everything, he feels relief. No one's touching him now, no one's hurting him. He can smell Richard's overpowering cologne on his skin, but a bath will fix that. Deep down, some part of Martin is aware that none of this is normal, that he shouldn't be walking away from sex feeling like he's just escaped from a lion's den. He should feel floaty and peaceful, not dazed with adrenaline and anxiety. He shouldn't feel sick and contaminated. But he'd asked for it, hadn't he? He can't complain.

Martin fishes the keycard from his wallet when he reaches the door. His hands and feet are still slightly numb from the ropes Richard had used to tie him down. He'll be lucky if he manages to make it to the bed without crashing into something and waking Douglas up. He almost hopes that Douglas has decided to spend the night in the stewardess's room. Martin doesn't want to be looked at just now. He can't imagine anyone looking at him and not being as disgusted with him as he is with himself.

When he finally manages to get the door open, Martin thinks at first that he's been lucky, because the lamps are on and the beds are still made up. But then he looks around. Douglas is sitting in the corner, head resting in his hands. When the door clicks shut, he looks up. He's been crying.

It catches Martin like a blow to the stomach. If he weren't too sore for sudden movement, he'd be across the room already, demanding to know what's wrong, and how he can fix it. Douglas shouldn't cry. Martin depends on Douglas being untouched by anything.

"Are you all right?" Martin blurts out

"What?"

"You look awful." Strange, how the slightest hint of Douglas being unwell should make Martin forget absolutely everything else. "Did--something happen?"

Douglas gapes at him, and Martin feels desperately confused. Why won't Douglas speak? They've only been apart for a few hours, what could possibly have gone wrong in that amount of time?

"Nothing happened to me," he says slowly. "What are you doing here? I rather thought you'd settled for the night."

Martin can't control his shudder. "I didn't want to stay with…with him."

Douglas stands, quickly. He takes a step toward Martin, a hard, searching look in his eyes. Martin is suddenly acutely conscious of his split lip and reddening cheekbone, the stickiness of his back, the livid marks around his wrists and ankles.

"Didn't you enjoy yourself?" says Douglas.

"Not really."

Douglas rears back, blinking at Martin like he's not sure he's heard him right. "You were gone almost three hours!"

"He tied me up." And it had been easier, in the end, to just accept the bonds, than to fight them, or say anything.

Douglas's mouth falls open, and his chest swells. He takes several deep breaths before he speaks again, and when he does his voice is taut, a wire strained to snapping point.

"Did you want him to hurt you?" he says quietly.

"Not like that," says Martin, without thinking.

When Douglas lifts his chin, Martin realizes that the anger he's seeing, it's protectiveness. It makes something hot and electric sizzle in Martin's skin. But he hasn't got any right to Douglas's concern.

"It wasn't his fault," Martin forces himself to say. "He, he didn't force me or anything."

A complicated series of emotions passes over Douglas's face. He sinks back into his chair and rests his head wearily in his hand. "You absolute child," he whispers.

Martin is exhausted, and Douglas is confusing him. He tosses his jacket across the back of a chair. He feels like he's about to fly apart. He thinks back to all the times Douglas had asked to hold him, and he wishes he could turn back time long enough to say yes, just once, because even the memory of Douglas's arms around him would be something more to cling to than he has now.

"I'm having a shower," he says, to break the silence. "I'm sorry if I kept you up."

Martin starts for the bathroom. But as soon as he turns his back, there's a hiss from Douglas. Martin looks over his shoulder.

"You're bleeding."

"It's not bad."

"I thought you didn't--" Douglas swallows. "I mean, we never..."

"I don't. Richard does."

Douglas takes a few steps toward him. His voice would be tender if it weren't so ragged. "Martin."

Martin sinks down on the bed. The rope marks are livid around his wrists. He can feel Richard's fingers, thick and hot, pinching and probing every crevice of his body, like a large spider. "I'm fine," he says. "Really, I'm fine. I'm--"

His voice breaks, and he digs his nails into his palms. It's appalling that he can't even tell a convincing lie to spare his friend some pain.

The next thing he knows, Douglas is on his knees, holding Martin's hands. Their faces are so close together he can see every line and wrinkle around Douglas's eyes.

"You don't have to be fine," whispers Douglas. "It's okay, Martin. You don't have to pretend."

Tears blister Martin's eyes. "Yes, I do." I love you. I love you. I love you.

Douglas is silent for a long moment. Then he stands, and Martin thinks, that's it, I've driven him off for good this time. He hears the sound of water running in the bathroom. Douglas returns a few seconds later, carrying a wet flannel. He sits on the bed beside Martin.

"Turn a bit," he says.

Martin obeys wordlessly. Douglas presses the flannel to the places where the dried blood binds Martin's shirt to broken skin. Douglas is gentle and methodical, and when he eases Martin's shirt down his shoulders a few minutes later, it doesn't hurt at all.

"I'm running a bath," says Douglas. "Come on. I'll help you."

Martin rises, finding his legs unsteady beneath him. Douglas loops a hand around his waist and guides Martin into the bathroom. He busies himself adding foaming salts to the water while Martin peels his trousers off. When he takes Martin's arm to help him into the tub his eyes only skim Martin's body long enough to take stock of the damage.

The water enfolds Martin like a warm embrace. He groans, as his muscles relax and the crust of blood and semen melts away. When he looks up, he finds Douglas staring down at him, a helpless expression on his face.

"I--" Douglas takes a deep breath. "I'll just…go. Call me, if you need anything."

"Douglas." He pauses in midstride. "You--can stay. If you want."

Douglas hesitates, then turns back to the tub. The suds are thick, turning the water opaque, and Martin is hidden from view beneath them. Douglas kneels beside the tub, reaching for the flannel draped over the edge of the porcelain.

"Lean up," he says.

Martin presses his chest to his knees. Douglas draws the flannel over his shoulders. Rivulets of scarlet appear in the water as he wrings the cloth out. The cuts sting like fury, but Martin keeps quiet. This, alone, is nearly worth all the rest. He could bend over for a hundred Richards, every night of the week, if only Douglas would be like this afterwards, gentle and sweet, thinking of nothing but him.

They sit there in silence for a long while, Douglas continuing to stroke his back long past the point when every smear of blood must have been soaked away. Martin has nearly drifted off, when Douglas's voice brings him back.

"No more of this," he says. "No more strangers. If this is what you need, I'll be the one to give it to you."

Heat seems to seep from the bathwater into Martin's stomach. But then he remembers how Douglas had looked that last night, when he'd said he didn't want to do it anymore. "You said it made you uncomfortable. I--I don't want to do that to you."

"That's my own affair."

"What if it made me uncomfortable?"

Douglas's hand, holding the flannel, stills in the middle of his back.

"Let me put it this way." A steely note enters Douglas's voice. "If, ever again, I see you stumbling drunkenly into another man's room, I'll have you out of there again quicker than you can say, 'Martin has a rather embarrassing STI he's probably failed to mention.'"

Startled, Martin laughs. "You wouldn't," he says, leaning his forehead against his knees. "Oh, what am I saying, of course you would."

"Count on it," Douglas agrees. "You're under no compulsion to have sex with me, of course. But--" He pauses, then clears his throat. "Tonight simply mustn't happen again. You're my friend, you know. Whatever else happens."

When Douglas's hand trails up his shoulder again, Martin reaches back and clasps it tightly. After the way things had ended between them, it's more than he ever dared hope for. It's everything.

"Thank you," he says hoarsely.

Douglas squeezes back. They sit together until the bath water turns cold.

*

Their second day in Portugal is lazy, an opportunity for rest and sight-seeing while their client holds meetings and makes deals and generally keeps herself busy at a job that Martin suspects is a lot less fun than his, even when you took into account the stress of being in unrequited love with one's co-pilot.

Douglas is up and out of the room before Martin wakes up, but Martin finds a bottle of paracetamol and a still-warm cup of tea on his bedside table when he opens his eyes. After the bath, Douglas had produced a tidy little first aid kid from his luggage, disinfected and bandaged the worst of the damage to Martin's back, and made him drink water and swallow painkillers before he slept. Douglas hadn't attempted to get into the bed with him, but he'd sat up for a long time in the bed opposite, talking of nothing in particular, until the sound of his voice put Martin to sleep. As a result, Martin wakes up feeling peaceful and rested, only a little sore, wondering why it is he can only ever seem to have half of a good thing at once. Given the choice between sex with Douglas and Douglas taking care of him, Martin thinks he prefers the latter. But he knows that it will hurt Douglas if he goes to Richard or someone like him again, and nothing is worth hurting Douglas. Besides, even he isn't damaged enough to put himself through that again just so Douglas will be kind to him. At least, he hopes he's not.

Martin keeps to the room for most of the day. He's nervous of running into Richard again, and he doesn't really feel well enough to leg it around the city in any case. Douglas returns in the early evening, just as Martin is starting to think he should go out in search of something to eat. He lets himself into the room quietly, smiling at Martin, who's sitting cross-legged on the bed, hunched over an Agatha Christie novel.

"Quiet day?" he says.

Martin nods. "Just relaxing. Reading a bit." He feels a bit awkward, unsure to what degree the events of last night have altered things between them. "What, what about you, what did you get up to?"

"Oh, this and that. Is your back all right?"

Martin flushes. "It's fine, yeah. Thanks to you, mostly."

Douglas arches an eyebrow. "Certainly no thanks to your little friend, I grant you." Douglas fishes his keys and wallet from his pockets and unbuttons his collar. "I looked him up today."

"What?" Martin yelps. He has a sudden vision of Douglas banging Richard's head repeatedly against a wall, and the police turning up at the airport to drag him away in handcuffs. "Douglas, please tell me you didn't do anything stupid."

Douglas gives an amused little smile. "No, nothing like that," he says. "I didn't see him at all. Just asked some friends of mine to do a bit of snooping around."

"What on earth for?"

"Because judging from what he did to you, he's the sort of man who likes to take the wrong sort of advantage. In my experience, men like that aren't always fussy about getting even nominal consent from their partners. I thought I might turn up something nasty if I did a bit of poking around, and do you know what? I did."

Martin's stomach stirs unpleasantly. "Do I want to know?"

"The police wanted him for questioning in connection with a violent assault against a prostitute in this city last spring." There isn't even a hint of bragging in Douglas's voice, just a grim heaviness. "I use the past tense, because the police no longer want him, so much as they have him."

Martin's mouth drops. "You--you got him arrested?" His voice rises in an undignified squeak.

"Naturally," says Douglas, and now he does sound just a bit pleased with himself. "What else could I do, when I found myself in possession of information that could lead to solving a crime?"

Martin just stares at Douglas, feeling alternately flushed, then chilled as the air conditioning wafts over hot skin. "Douglas."

"I'm just going to have a quick shower, before dinner. You didn't need the bathroom, did you?"

"Douglas." Martin straightens, setting his book aside. "Just--be honest. Did you--do that because of--what he did to me?"

Douglas makes a face. "You might as easily say that I did it because I didn't like his smug face," he says. When Martin continues to look at him, Douglas sighs. "Yes, all right. He hurt you, and I wanted him to pay for it. Do you want me to apologize for that?"

"No," says Martin hastily. His head is spinning. "No, I--I just don't quite know what to say."

"Ah." Douglas brightens. "Well if you're worried about paying me back, that's simple enough. Have dinner with me tonight."

"Douglas, be serious."

"I am perfectly serious." Douglas finishes unbuttoning his shirt, and drapes it over the back of a chair. "I told you, I hate eating alone. I'll just be a minute, so you'd better get dressed. They won't let you in the door wearing knackered jeans and a Red Arrows t-shirt, I'm afraid."

After that, there's really nothing Martin can do, apart from put on his only remaining decent shirt and his uniform trousers. Douglas looks him over when he emerges from the bathroom a few minutes later, then hands Martin his tie. They take a cab to dinner, at another of Douglas's cherished sushi restaurants, and when Martin admits he's never had sushi before, Douglas order plate after plate of nigiri and maki, pointing at various selections and instructing Martin when and how to add the soy sauce, sliced pickled ginger, and wasabi paste. He stops just short of making Martin eat from his own chopsticks, but there's an element of guidance and gentle control throughout the meal that leaves Martin squirming. If this is what you need, I'll be the one to give it you. His suspicions are confirmed when Douglas arches an eyebrow at him over a bowl of red bean ice cream.

"Tonight, then," he says. "Do you have an appointment to keep with Miss Christie, or are you free to give me some of your time?"

Martin flushes. He should say no. Anyone who wasn't properly fucked in the head would say no. His back is a mess, and while he doesn't feel as bad as he ought, all things considered, any more activity of that sort will leave him in no fit state to fly a plane in the morning. But Douglas is hardly likely to have forgotten that, so this can only be a test of some sort. Martin can't imagine what sort of test, but that isn't really the point. Where Douglas is concerned, he simply isn't able to say no.

When he nods, an odd light flickers in Douglas's eyes. He looks--disappointed. Almost sad. But it's gone in the next second, and when he pays their bill, his hand comes to settle firmly on the small of Martin's back. The touch sends a thrill through Martin's body, and he knows then that, whatever the price of giving way to Douglas, it will be worth it.

*

When they reach the hotel, Douglas releases him at the door to the lobby. "I'll be up in a bit," he murmurs, and Martin nods. This is how Douglas likes it, sending Martin ahead to ready himself, to wait for him.

In the room, Martin takes off his clothes, running his hand speculatively over the already-dark bruises on his hips, ribs, and thighs. His nipples are sore and chapped from the heavy clamps Richard had placed on them, and the ligature lines around his wrists and ankles are so black that he looks like he's already wearing cuffs. But Douglas has seen all of that already, and Martin trusts him. Even if Douglas hurts him, Martin knows it will satisfy the deeper ache inside him that no one else can reach.

He's on his knees again, facing away from the door, when Douglas returns. The door opens and shuts, and all is quiet for a moment. Martin imagines Douglas looking at him, deciding where and how to touch him. He wonders if Douglas will be angry that he's not hard.

Douglas approaches him slowly, his footsteps heavy against the carpet. He comes to stand close behind Martin, running a hand up from the small of Martin's back to the base of his neck. His touch is careful of the welts and scabs Richard had left on him, and Martin relaxes fractionally. Maybe this is Douglas's way of assuring him that he'll go easy on him.

"This isn't how I want you tonight," says Douglas. "I'll have you on the bed. Face down, arms over your head."

Martin stands and arranges himself on the bed. He lies on his stomach, head turned away from Douglas, arms stretched over the pillow. In the corner of the room, he hears Douglas removing his clothes and rifling through his bag.

"I made another stop today, in between sorting out matters with that vicious little wanker," says Douglas. There's a faint, unfamiliar tinkle, and something lands on the bed next to Martin. "Scoot up nearer the headboard."

Martin wriggles up the mattress by a few inches until his elbows are bent and his forearms rest against the polished expanse of wood. Douglas takes his right hand and wraps his wrist in something cool and soft, made of leather. When Martin hears the clank of the chain again, he realizes Douglas's other stop had involved the purchase of wrist restraints. Unlike the thin, biting rope Richard had used, the leather cuffs cinch his wrists in a firm but not uncomfortable grip, and when Douglas has finished attaching both cuffs to opposite bedposts Martin is still able to rest his arms against the mattress without pulling them against his bruises.

"The thing is," says Douglas, as he moves away to fasten another set of cuffs to his ankles, "you've been lying to me, Martin. I'd be rather angry about that, if I weren't inclined to think you've also been lying to yourself. And I can't help being slightly impressed. There aren't many people who can manipulate me, without my noticing."

Martin's heart rate spikes so abruptly that his vision begins to swim. "I haven't--"

"Quiet." Douglas squeezes his ankle warningly. "I'm not going to gag you while you've got a split lip, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to speak."

Probably better that way, Martin thinks, squeezing his eyes shut. He's never been a good liar; anything he says will probably just betray him further.

"Do you know that Oscar Wilde quote?" says Douglas, testing the last ankle cuff with a slight yank. "The one that goes something like, 'the worst thing in life is not getting what you want, and the second worst thing is getting it?'"

Martin shakes his head, not even certain that Douglas is looking at him.

"That might not be it exactly. My memory's a trifle rusty. But it's an instructive little aphorism. I don't think I ever fully understood it before."

The mattress dips suddenly under the weight of Douglas's body. Martin feels the heat of broad thighs pressing against his hips as Douglas straddles him. He tenses; Douglas hasn't prepared him at all, which is painful at the best of times, but after what Richard had done to him a dry fuck will be nothing short of agonizing. But he's never said no before, has he? He can hardly start now.

Martin presses his face to the mattress to stifle his ragged breathing.

"You are," says Douglas, in a voice suddenly gone soft with wonder, "the most extraordinary idiot I have ever met, Martin Crieff."

Martin feels the warmth of Douglas's hands coming to settle on his shoulders. They knead the knotted muscles gathered at the top of his shoulder blades and the base of his neck. Then they slide down his back, and up his ribs, down his spine again, in a soothing rhythm.

"You're a mess," Douglas says softly. "Another rough night would probably put you in hospital, but you didn't even hesitate when I asked you for this. Why is that, I wonder? Do you really love the pain that much?"

Martin shudders, and the tremors continue to travel through him until Douglas stretches himself out, covering Martin with his whole body. The weight of him makes it hard for Martin to breathe deeply, and after a second Douglas pushes himself back on his knees.

"There's another wise little saying I heard once," says Douglas, trailing a finger down Martin's spine. "'Nobody likes pain for its own sake.' Even those who pursue it only do so as a means to some other end." His hand stills, just above the cleft of Martin's arse. "What does that say about you, I wonder?"

"Douglas," Martin gasps.

"No talking, I said." Douglas pinches his arse, and Martin's hips jerk. "This is what you like, isn't it? Me, calling the shots. Taking responsibility. Taking the blame."

Douglas bends down again, and presses a kiss to the base of Martin's neck. "And I have been very much to blame, I think," he says, whispering hotly against Martin's skin. "Very much remiss. All the clues were there, and I failed to put them together. Until I saw you with that man last night. You looked so frightened. I thought, why should a young man who delights in pain be scared of such an obvious sadist? And then I realized. Pain is easy, isn't it?" Douglas kisses him under the jaw, behind his ear, and his other hand strokes Martin's hair away from his face so that can he kiss the corner of his eye. "It's so much easier than love."

"Stop it!" Martin jerks his wrists against the cuffs, trying to buck up beneath the weight of Douglas's body, pinning him to the mattress. "Fuck you, let me go!"

Douglas goes very still for a moment. "No," he says. "No, I don't think I will. We've been doing this your way all along. My turn now."

"What, are you going to force me?" The sheet under his face is soaked with his tears. "Like he did?"

Douglas's fingers dig into his arms. "You said he didn't force you."

Martin exhales, all the fight going out of him. "He didn't," he mutters. "Or he did. I don't know. What's the difference?"

There's another long silence, in which Martin hears nothing but the whir of the air conditioner, and Douglas's heavy breathing. "You actually mean that, don't you?" Douglas whispers.

Martin presses his face against his shoulder and tries not to wail.

The mattress dips and bends as Douglas pushes himself upright. He climbs out of the bed, and the air is suddenly frigid against Martin's bare skin. Briskly, Douglas unfastens the cuffs around Martin's ankles, pausing only to massage the feeling back into them before he does the same to Martin's wrists. When he is free, Martin surprises himself by not leaping out of the bed. He rolls onto his side, facing away from Douglas, and curls into a ball, covering his face with his hands.

The next thing he knows, Douglas is lying beside him, tugging hard against his shoulder until Martin is lying on his back. And then Douglas is on him, holding his face between his hands, kissing his forehead, his eyes, his lips and neck. He sucks at the hollow of Martin's throat, and Martin arches underneath him. Douglas's hand slides between the press of their bodies and his fingers wrap firmly around Martin's half hard cock, tugging and squeezing with a gentle force completely unlike the delicious violence with which he used to tear orgasms from him.

"This is what I want," Douglas gasps into his mouth, bucking against Martin's hips. "Is it what you want? Tell me."

"Yes," Martin sobs, helpless, unable to think, to remember his fear or his shame. "You, this, I want it, God. I want you so much."

"Good." Douglas's hand moves harder, faster, and Martin's blood sings with it. "That's my good boy. You're beautiful this way. Beautiful when you take it for me. You want to, don't you? You'll take whatever I give you." His grips tightens, almost painfully, and it nearly sends Martin over the edge. "So wet and hard in my hand. You're so brave when you're in pain, but pleasure shatters you, doesn't it? I could break you this way. Tear you to pieces, stop you hiding from me ever again. You want that, don't you? You want to let me."

"No," Martin keens. "Yes, no--Douglas--"

"Stop fighting me." Douglas's voice is feverish. "I'm going to make you come. Say it."

"You're--fuck, Douglas--you're going to make me come--"

"Do it. Come for me. All over my fingers, like a good boy. I want to feel you under me, you'll make me come so hard."

When Martin comes, it's like falling, and he clutches at Douglas, pressing his face to his shoulder, digging his fingers into Douglas's back. His breath comes in fast, arrhythmic gulps, and he hardly notices Douglas wringing the aftershocks from him, wiping him clean with the tissues on the bedside table. He stares at the ceiling and lies in the wreckage of his defenses, while Douglas tightens his arms around him and breathes against his neck, pressing erratic, clumsy kisses to his face.

"Are you all right?" says Douglas, when the silence begins to stretch out.

Martin doesn't answer immediately. He doesn't want to lie, or to worry Douglas, but he doesn't know what the truth is. What does all right mean, when the world is no longer the place he thought it was?

"How did you know?" he whispers.

Douglas smoothes Martin's hair back from his forehead. "Every time I asked you to stay," he says musingly. "You hid it well, but for just a moment, you looked as though saying no hurt you more than anything I'd done to you with my hands or belt."

"You can't be mad at me. You wouldn't have wanted it, if I'd told you then." Martin doesn't bother to say that he's amazed Douglas wants it now.

Douglas hums under his breath, lapsing into a thoughtful silence. "I don't know," he says. "I think you underestimate your talent for getting under one's skin."

"Is that what this is?"

Douglas sighs. "I'm not sure what to call it," he says. "Love…it's bit like a virus that can only be detected by the antibodies it creates. On a day that was no different from any other day, I looked at you, and suddenly I wanted you. When it seemed you would only have me on certain terms, I went along with it, though it was nothing I ever thought of wanting before. And when I saw you in the bar with that man, I thought--how dare you let someone else touch what's mine." He rests his forehead against Martin's shoulder. "I don't know if that's anything like what you feel for me. But I know that I can love you, Martin, if you'll just--bloody let me."

In the morning, Martin may decide that in giving up this part of himself, he's lost a vital defense without which he cannot function. Douglas may turn cold or cruel, and Martin may crumble without his support. But tomorrow is very far away, and for now Douglas is asking something of him. He never says no to Douglas.

"Yes," he says. "Yes, I'll try, yes."